PARAMUS, N.J. -- If you've ever competed in organized sports -- at the recreational, high school, collegiate or professional level -- you have likely undergone a pre-participation examination (PPE). Though often a requirement for competition, athletes and parents may not always understand what a PPE is or why it is performed.
The purpose of the PPE is to ensure that athletes are safe to participate in sport and to maximize the athlete’s health. A PPE is not a substitute for an annual health examination or physical, and conversely, an annual physical does not necessarily qualify as a PPE. One of the main goals of a PPE is to detect any conditions that could predispose an athlete to injury or illness while participating in athletics.
The PPE has two main components: a history and a physical examination. The history component is a series of questions that investigate any prior medical conditions or surgeries, medication use, allergies, family history, and concerning symptoms. The physical examination component of the PPE at a minimum consists of testing vital signs (height, weight, blood pressure, pulse), vision, and also includes a focused examination of the cardiovascular and orthopedic systems.
PPEs should be completed at least six weeks before starting athletic participation, preferably by a primary care physician. This allows enough time to complete any additional testing if required, or rehabilitate any injuries or treat any illnesses identified. A PPE is usually recommended annually, but this can vary depending on the state, level of play or athletic organization.
In all but rare instances following a PPE, the athlete will be given a clearance status and is ready to hit the field.
Dr. David A. Wang is a sports medicine physician at Hospital for Special Surgery specializing in the treatment of acute and overuse injuries. His main clinical and research interests are overuse injuries, concussions, viscosupplementation injections, and the pre-participation physical exam. Dr. Wang currently practices at Hospital for Special Surgery’s Manhattan campus and Paramus Outpatient Center.